As part of Hannah Marriott's Nuffield Scholarship in 2014, she visited NZM and several of our growers to find out more about the potential for technology like EID to enable more profitable farming through more effective breeding selection and management decisions. You can check out the Executive Summary and Recommendations below - or click here for the full report.
- The need to combine on-farm productivity gains with specifications of the end product is more important than ever as the demand for consistently safe, high quality and ethically-grown food increases. Productivity gains on farm are a mainstream way to increase profit under a largely commodity-driven pricing structure. However, in the absence of adequate and accurate product feedback, productivity gains alone could limit the ability to produce product to market specification. Linking feedback on the products being produced in the sheep industry (lamb, wool and sheep meat) back to production and reproduction is very important. Current technology such as electronic identification (EID) can facilitate such linkages in a simple, practical and cost effective way.
- A focus on the full range of animal performance data - rather than the average - through Individual Animal Management (IAM) allows for more accurate identification of superior and inferior stock. This information can be used to make precise decisions around genetics and nutrition. For example, the top 25% of ewes can be more than twice as efficient as the bottom 25% of ewes, under identical management. Therefore, having the ability to identify the animals that fall below the average on an economic measure allows for greater gains through more precise selection pressure.
- Matching a ewe to her progeny, using EID, will enable a weaned litter weight to be correlated to her. Currently Pedigree Match Maker (PMM) is the most efficient commercially available tool for matching ewe and lamb. Work is being done on creating a sensor tag which will remotely link ewe and lamb through near field technology. This will be an area that will continue to evolve.
- A ewe efficiency index can be calculated if the liveweight of the ewe and weaning weight of the lamb(s) is collected. This is a key profit driver, which can be optimised, and enables greater selection pressure by producing surplus replacement ewes. It also supports selection of favourable component traits including fertility, number of lambs born, lamb survival, lactation and lamb growth rate.
- Individual Animal Management in a commercial setting requires a resource commitment and must be practical. Data collection should be integrated as part of the annual management calendar to ensure greatest efficiency in time. Typical measurements that align with annual animal husbandry are pregnancy scanning, liveweight and condition score, sex of the lamb, age of the dam, lamb marking weight and weaning weight, wool cut, sire group (and their genetics) and matching ewe and lamb.
- Look at the full range in animal performance data as well as the average, and identify animals below average.
- Use a combination of visual and objective assessment to allow underperforming animals on a commercial basis to be identified and culled from the main breeding flock.
- Estimate ewe efficiency by linking ewe and progeny, recording weight of lambs at weaning and correlating this to the ewe liveweight. Further work needs to be done on remotely linking ewes and lambs to identify the most productive ewes.
- Streamline data collection to only include what is needed as defined by the KPIs of the business. Use this information to link product feedback with on-farm production.
- Implement the use of ASBVs when introducing genetics into the flock and target areas most limiting profitability.
- Add carcass traits to the selection criteria in Merino breeding systems to optimise returns from meat and wool.
Click here for more about NZM growers using EID to unlock greater potential in their sheep farming businesses.